Thursday, May 5, 2011

Voices of All Sorts

I continue to be impressed with the quality of the music being produced by young musicians. Over the past decade or so, major labels have all but abandoned jazz (granted, there are a few exceptions.)  Labels such as Blue Note, Sunnyside, Telarc, and HighNote (formerly Muse Records) certainly do their share and listeners can be grateful for newer labels such as Origin & OA2, Brooklyn Jazz Underground, and Posi-Tone Records (and, are they on a roll!) Then, there are the artist-owned labels, such as Greeneaf (Dave Douglas) and Marsalis Music that have moved to the forefront.

Here's a look at look at several fine recent releases worth your attention.

"Unified" (Sunnyside) is the second release for Texas native Stan Killian (the first came out in 2000.)  Since moving to New York City, the tenor saxophonist has worked with musicians such as drummer Antonio Sanchez, pianist Luis Perdomo and guitarist Ben Monder (among others) and "soul music" groups such as The Temptations and The Supremes.  For this self-produced recording, Killian utilizes 2 different rhythms (bassist Bryan Copeland and drummer Darrell Green or bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer McClenty Hunter) and 3 distinct guests (trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Jeremy Pelt on 2 tracks each plus 3 cuts with alto saxophonist David Binney). Killian's partner throughout the program is the energetic and creative pianist Benito Gonzalez

This is, for the most part, very enjoyable music.  I am puzzled that Killian chose to start the CD with "Twin Dark Mirrors" (the title brings to mind The New Yorker cover drawn by Art Spiegelman the week following 9/11/01) - the track, featuring Hargrove, is hard-bop but somewhat, especially in the light of the pieces that follow. Cut 2, "Elvin's Sight", rides in on an infectious piano riff (Gonzalez composed this piece, the only non-Killian tune on the disk)and the subtle drum work of Green. Killian and Binney play together through the handsome melody with the former taking the first solo in a contemplative manner while the latter hits his spot a bit harder which pushes the rhythm section to up the intensity. After both saxophonists spar a bit, Gonzalez creates a fine solo, bluesy, playful and percussive. Pelt also gets a hard-bop showcase on "Center" but, here, the melody and harmony line are more thoughtfully constructed giving the soloists a better foundation.  "Windows of Time" has a catchy rhythm part and the 2 saxophonists seem to enjoy the romp. It's not that the piece is "full-blown" romp; instead, the intensity level shifts under the soloists and those variations capture the attention. The program closes with Pelt guesting on "Eternal Return" and, while it is similar in feel to the opening track, the interplay is more impressive (Gonzalez sounds like he's having a great time comping underneath and his solo really smokes.)

Stan Killian's compositions and style, firmly rooted in the music of Art Blakey, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, makes for pleasing listening.  I like that he's not overblowing and that several of the pieces have the sound of a band that is really in sync with the leader.  Lots of promise here - to find out more, go to

I figure if Amy Cervini sends you a CD that features a vocalist, it has to be good.  After all, Ms. Cervini certainly knows her way around a song (she's released 2 quite pleasing CDs as a leader - see them here.) "Parade: Live in New York City" (self-released) is the 4th release from Jack Donahue and the first to feature all standards.  There are several pieces, such as "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" and "If I Only Had a Brain", that have been recorded by dozens, if not hundreds, of singers.  It's a tribute to Donahue and pianist/arranger Randy Ingram, that those particular songs are so affecting, without cliches or overt theatrics.  "...Brain" is performed as a ballad and here sounds like a sweet love song.  The rhythm section throughout is bassist Erik Privert (who arranged 4 of the 11 pieces) and drummer Jared Schonig (Dave Brophy takes over on 1 track.) Ingram steps aside for Adam Birnbaum ("Before the Parade Passes By"), Dan Kauffman ("Put On Your Sunday Clothes") and Fred Hersch ("Lazy Afternoon", from the 1954 musical "The Golden Apple") - the rhythm section sits out on the Hersch track and Marcus Parsley joins in on trumpet. 

The material ranges from the afore-mentioned "oldies" to 2 Jimmy Webb tunes to bassist Jay Leonhart's anti-war "Let The Flower Grow" to Kenny Rankin's "Haven't We Met" to pieces by Jerry Herman and the Gershwin Brothers.  The trio really "swing out" on "But Not For Me" (there's even a drum solo) but the best part is that Donahue doesn't feel the need to scat or get into vocalize.  This is a singer who loves the lyrics, doesn't slur or get overly dramatic (very little melisma) but rarely sounds slick or clever. This is not "throw-away" material but music that resonates in the soul - give it a good listen. To find out more, go to

Not sure why but I've been sleeping on "The Basilisk" (self-released), the debut CD from violinist/composer Majid Khaliq.  It swings like mad, thanks to the infectious drumming of Johnathan Blake, who cut his teeth playing behind another fine jazz violinist, his father John Blake, Jr.  From the first seconds of the opening track (the title cut), the young man's energy jumps right out of the speakers.  Khaliq, a graduate of both the Juilliard School and Queen's College Aaron Copland School of Music, does not hold back.Thankfully, his music also does not carry the highly poisonous venom of the mythical monster from which the CD takes its name.  Utilizing the strong sound of trumpeter Charles "Charlie" Porter, Khaliq has composed a number of excellent tunes, multi-sectioned pieces that allow for full melodies and fine solos.  Bassist Ivan Taylor is the solid foundation of the group, completed by pianists Jeb Patton (5 of the 8 tracks) and Eric "ELEW" Lewis (on the other 3.)  One hears the influences of Jean-Luc Ponty and Regina Carter in Khaliq's rich tones and flowing lines.  On Porter's lone contribution to the recording, "The Truth", the leader wraps his lines around the expressive cymbal work and Patton's rich accompaniment.  The oh-so-funky piano and drum work on "Spirals" illustrate the song's title while the solo section lopes along thanks to the insistent bass line and Blake's exquisite yet playful time-keeping.

The only "standard" is "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" and it's here that one hears Khaliq's first influence, Ray Nance as well as Stephane Grappelli.  The band, sans trumpet, play the piece "straight", as a handsome ballad with the leader "doubling" the melody on his violin to great effect. The cut is a gentle and genial close to a promising debut CD.  One hopes this is just the first in a long lines of finely crafted works from Majid Khaliq.  For more information, go to

Drummer/composer Bastian Weinhold (whose fine percussion work graces guitarist Dave Juarez's Posi-Tone debut, "Round Red Light" (reviewed here), has his own debut to be proud of.  "River Styx" (Frame Music Label), also a nod to myth, shows the young German native (born 1986) as a hard-driving, perpetual motion, percussionist.  The quintet that plays his music features the impressive young bassist Linda Oh, tenor saxophonist Adam Larson (he's just 21), 24 year-old Pascal Le Bouef (piano, Rhodes) and older brother Nils Weinhold (electric guitar).  These compositions may remind some of the Chick Corea's electric Return To Forever but without the bombast.  Bastian Weinhold has a propulsive style, really pushing the tempo, working the entire trap set, busy but never instrusive, very much in the style of Tony Williams, Eric Harland and Dafnis Prieto. The opening 2 tracks, "The Tune" and "Punkberry", rarely let up - in fact, the latter track is quite intense yet not extremely loud.  The first half of the next track, "Kungafuh", is slower but the intensity level really climbs during Larson's tenor solo.  The one "true" ballad on the program is titled "The Last Line" has quite a pretty melody and the band shows great restraint throughout. Larson's solo, over a modified shuffle beat and rippling Rhodes figures, has intensity but never boils over. The title track closes the CD; the band starts slowly but begins the seemingly inevitable buildup during Ms. Oh's powerful solo.  While the piece never really "lets loose", the interaction of the front line with the leader's crashing cymbals and crackling snare work is both focused and intense.

Add Bastian Weinhold's name to the growing list of fine young drummer/composer/bandleaders.  With a bit more exposure, his name is sure to be on the lips of many jazz fans. To find out more, go to  

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